“To become old and wise, one must first survive being young and dumb.”— philosophical humor novelty sign in the Jefferson (Texas) General Store
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Last Saturday was not the first time I had smiled at that particular bit of pithy humor. In fact, most of us with older and hopefully wiser credentials (a.k.a. gray hair) would agree that the saying is more truth than humor. We would also tend to agree that guardian angels are a real thing.
Soon after seeing that sign, I read a social media post about some old wood bridges that once crossed the White Oak Creek bottom in Titus County, Texas, where I grew up. Connecting young and dumb with one of those bridges known as “the mile-long bridge” reminded of a night when guardian angels were definitely on duty.
As was most of my Mount Pleasant, Texas, high school classmate’s, my favorite high school pastime was cruising city streets from the north end Dairy Queen to the Dairy Mart on the south side of town, also known as “Bobby Joe’s.” Repeating that route for as many hours as was needed for sufficient socializing satisfied many Friday and Saturday nights.
When the city scenery became boring, some chose cruising the country roads. One country cruising loop involved two parallel roads connecting Mount Pleasant to Talco in the county’s northern end. Both Farm-to-Market 1402, sometimes called the “Hart’s Bluff Road,” and County Road 2152, commonly referred to as the “Green Hill Road,” crossed the White Oak Creek and slough that snaked its way through the county. Both roads intersected Highway 71 near the Talco oil fields’ eastern side.
The mile-long bridge on the Green Hill Road was a one-lane wood structure built in the early 1900s. It is long gone today, replaced years ago with a more modern means to traverse the swampy creek. Whether it was actually a mile long or not, I cannot confirm. Still, it was undoubtedly longer than any other one-lane wood bridge I remember crossing.
In remembering my own youthful lack of good judgment, I will protect the identity of others along for the ride that long-ago night. But, should this story sound familiar, admitting to being an accomplice is solely at your discretion.
Memory does not discern whether it was four or five souls who loaded into the big late-50s Pontiac Bonneville belonging to one of the perpetrators anticipating a night of seemingly innocent fun in Talco. Fun for this trip was loosely defined as sitting atop an oil derrick stargazing, talking, and reflecting on our impending high school graduation.
Choosing the Green Hill Road as our route to Talco and derricks in the dark of night, we were quickly on our way. However, it was much too quick for comfort from my back-seat view that I saw the mile-long bridge entrance appearing in the headlight’s glow. Before I had time to process that perception, the big highway cruiser hit the uneven spot where the bridge and the county road’s asphalt didn’t align perfectly, pitching it upward in a posture not unlike a 747 ready for liftoff.
I’m confident today that not one of us knew or considered that Bonneville weighed in at just over two tons and was 18 feet and a few inches more in length. That aside, the resulting momentary weightlessness felt like “the rubber may have actually left the road,” contradictory to the old Firestone tire ads. Whether it was actual or perceived flight, gravity soon interceded and did so with the aforementioned car’s weight compounded by G-forces that I’m sure Mr. McDowell could have easily calculated for us in physics class the next day. Fortunately, the big wide track hit the bridge on all fours and stayed there. The tired wood timbers survived the landing, and we reached the other side unscathed.
Looking back, scaling an iron ladder to the top of an oil derrick in the dark later that night oddly didn’t seem nearly as scary as launching a two-ton land yacht across a creek bottom on a one-lane wood bridge.
But again, young and dumb often looms as much less dangerous through the eyes of youth. It becomes scary only when the gray begins to hint at older and hopefully wiser thoughts. And when we begin to realize we may have given our guardian angels some gray hair of their own.
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